Alf Klaveness (March 22, 1914 - September 28, 2011) was a geophysicist, geologist, petroleum engineer, inventor, sailor, officer in the U. S. Navy, an 8 time decorated WWII war hero, entrepreneur, and the person credited with being the most effective promoter of the establishment of the Offshore Technology Conference.
Alf Klaveness, a man of outsized achievement and extreme modesty, died on 28 September 2011 in Dallas, USA at the age of 97. Klaveness was, at various times in his long career, a sailor, a college athlete, a geophysicist/geologist/petroleum engineer, an officer in the U.S. Navy who served on one of the most decorated ships of World War II, an inventor, and an entrepreneur. And, oh by the way, he deserves the lion’s share of the credit, in the minds of many, for establishing the spectacularly popular Offshore Technology Conference.
Klaveness outlived nearly all of his contemporaries so this memorial has been pieced together from an obituary prepared by Art Ross for the Houston Geophysical Society and an interview by Dolores Proubasta, former associate editor of The Leading Edge, that was published in TLE in 2003. When informed of Klaveness’ death, Proubasta replied with a statement that summarized his personality: “He was a true gentleman but it was the hardest interview I ever had. He was so modest that it was almost impossible to get him to say anything about himself.” To put that into perspective, Proubasta interviewed people regularly during 23 years on the TLE staff and for several years prior to that for journals in the United States and Spain.
Klaveness was born in Galveston, USA, on 22 March 1914. His family had long been connected with the sea and the oil business, dating back to a great-grandfather who built whaling ships (the “original oil business” Klaveness told Proubasta) in Norway. His father chartered oil tankers out of Galveston and later New Orleans. Klaveness went to sea as a mess boy at age 12 and worked his way up to third officer before enrolling at Louisiana State University, on a football scholarship, in 1934 to study petroleum engineering.
He was hired by Texaco, after graduation in 1938, and was “temporarily” sent to a geophysical crew in Louisiana because no opening existed on a drilling rig. He remained on seismic crews, primarily working in South America, until reassignment to Houston shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Klaveness, then a reservist in the U.S. Navy, was soon on active duty. He spent most of the war years as a sonar officer on the USS Benham, a destroyer that received eight battle stars. According to some reports, the Benham was chosen to lead the fleet into Tokyo Bay to receive the formal surrender of Japan on 2 September 1945. The Benham was anchored alongside the USS Missouri where Klaveness, by then the ship’s executive officer, and the rest of the crew and had ringside seats at the historic ceremony.
Klaveness rejoined Texaco after his discharge from the Navy in 1946 and worked primarily in geophysics but also spent time as a petroleum engineer and geologist. He retired in 1968 but soon joined AMEX Petroleum where he worked another 13 years. After his second retirement, he “with five other retired engineers, geophysicists, and geologists who weren’t ready to quit either” formed Klaveness Research Company. Klaveness obtained two patents during this period of his career for improvements on seismic measurement while drilling concepts he originally had developed at Texaco.
In the late 1950s, Klaveness foresaw that the growing complexity of the oil industry would require much closer cooperation of the various disciplines involved, particularly geophysics, geology, and petroleum engineering. This was not the conventional wisdom of the time. Indeed, many large companies then discouraged contact between these groups.
As a result, Klaveness proposed, at the 1961 meeting of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, a meeting that would concentrate, at one place, engineering, the geosciences, and all other upstream-related matters. It took virtually the rest of that decade to sell his idea, but the OTC managed to debut in 1969 (operated by SPE but with SEG as one of the sponsoring organizations). Klaveness’ prescience was immediately confirmed. OTC grew to gargantuan proportions by the end of its first decade, with attendance ultimately peaking at more than 100,000. Changes in format and the collapse of the price of oil in the mid-1980s caused attendance to plummet to around 25,000 but the trend then reversed again and in recent years the OTC has attracted more than 70,000 delegates. Klaveness worked in some official capacity related to the OTC until 2003 when he finally conceded that he was “semi-retired.” It’s doubtful he ever replaced “semi” with “fully".
SEG Life Membership 2005
Alf Klaveness has done more to generate annual revenue for SEG than perhaps any other person through his conception and development of the hugely popular Offshore Technology Conference.
It is important to recognize the history of important events and the OTC began in the mind of Alf Klaveness who nurtured the idea from conception to the first conference in 1969. The OTC is now the largest conference in the petroleum industry, which is the largest industry in the world. The OTC is big.
Revenues from the OTC are quite large and the fraction that ends up at SEG is about US$500 000 per year. Since this event does not require much SEG staff support, the net result is that our association with OTC currently saves each SEG member about US$25 in dues each year. In addition, this event provides an opportunity for intersociety cooperation and is a major venue for engineers to receive exposure to SEG and geophysics.
Biography Citation for SEG Life Membership
Contributed by Homer Leifeste
The Alf Klaveness family history extends from whale oil to petroleum oil and beyond. His Norwegian great-grandfather and grandfather built whaling ships when whale oil was in demand. When fossil oil demand grew, his grandfather built tankers. His father came to America to charter ships for Standard Oil. When the company was fragmented, he helped each new company build a fleet. He officed first in Galveston, where Alf was born, but moved to New Orleans.
Alf graduated from LSU with a degree in petroleum engineering and a minor in geology. He played football for LSU, helping inflict torment on Rice Institute. Houston impressed the team, however, because 12 members joined oil companies. Alf to Texaco, where he remained for 30 years and where his first assignment was on a seismic crew in the swamps of Louisiana. He stretched copper lines, made shot holes for dynamite-charged loading poles, worked in waistdeep water, and became a seismic expert.
Meanwhile, from age 12, with his father’s reluctant approval, he went to sea in the summers and progressed to third mate. After Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to a destroyer. He successively became sonar operator, damage control officer and, executive officer. His ship went to Guadalcanal, Midway, Einewetok, Saipan, Guam, Tinnian, Ulithi, Leyte, Iwo Jima, and the East China Sea. He was awarded eight battle stars. His ship sank three enemy submarines and downed 41 kamikazes.
He returned to Texaco in April 1946 in charge of maps and interpretation of seismic data. He worked in Egypt, South America, Central America, Mexico, Canada, Alaska, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, and California. He helped Texaco gain several drilling patents. Upon retirement, he consulted for a time and then worked at AMOCO for an additional 20 years. He also stayed in the Navy reserve with occasional access to military leaders, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of State. He recommended to the Secretary of Defense that a battleship be used as an ice breaker to open the Northwest Passage to China. The idea was rejected, but the Coast Guard has now built a new ice-breaking ship. He recommended geophones around the periphery of Huntsville prison to detect possible prison break attempts.
When a tropical storm sank a barge at Baton Rouge carrying two large tanks of liquid chlorine that represented a major threat to the city, the Navy and Army Corps of Engineers were unable to locate the tanks in the murky waters of the Mississippi River.
Alf and an associate read newspaper accounts of their failure and said they could locate the tanks. Texaco’s president offered their help. It was accepted by the governor of Louisiana, and they located the tanks in 30 minutes. It took a month for the Corps of Engineers to carefully retrieve the tanks.
Alf holds two patents with three pending. One patent is a borehole pulsor attached to the bit sending a pulse during the brief moment the bit is quiet before adding more drill pipe. This records deeper formations including zones overpressured by gas which have the potential for blowouts.
Alf retired in 2000 at age 88 having witnessed and participated in many early developments in the oil industry. He has been married for 65 years to Lee Ball Klaveness and they have a daughter and a son. He is an active churchman, affable, kind, generous, enterprising, innovative, and a genuinely friendly hero.